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Episode 03: What makes a successful digital transformation?

Harvey Durrant, Head of ICT, Devon & Somerset Fire & Service and David Fathers, Regional General Manager at Crown Records Management discuss what makes a successful digital transformation. See Harvey’s advice for other public service institutions on how best to drive change in their organisations.

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Video transcript

Kevin: Hi everyone and welcome to the Crown Records Management digital transformation podcast series. My name is Kevin Widdop, digital transformation sales lead here at Crown Records Management. I’m here in the studio with Harvey Durrant, Head of ICT at the Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue service fresh off the back of a public sector digital transformation project. David Fathers, Regional General Manager at Crown Records Management for the UK and Ireland. Over seeing digital change within an offsite paper storage business for the last fifty years welcome to you both.

Digital transformation in business

Kevin: Let’s start off then with one of the buzz words of 2018 and many years to come, digital transformation. What does it really mean in business?

Harvey: Digital transformation is nothing more or less than a transformative approach to enterprise change. That’s all it is. Most of the technology that we’ve got today was available fifteen years ago but you needed a lot more money to be able to buy them! So for example, architectures in the late nineties, I was putting up into global banks for about fifteen million pounds and I can put the same type of architecture in for about £150,000 today. So I think the technology has reached a tipping point in terms of cost and capabilities.

You’ve got a happy alignment of cost affective digital technology and an overwhelming business priority that if you don’t start changing, if you don’t start looking at what’s happening in your market place, you probably won’t have a business in a few years’ time.

David: Digital technology or technology and transformation has been around for years. If you go back into the eighties, cars were built by machines, robots were introduced and now all cars are pretty much manufactured on a robotic conveyer. Today the transformation for me is really about understanding information that individuals and companies have. How is it controlled, accessed and managed as we go forward? Understanding that information asset is vital for the future success of the organisation. How can we be the link between the physical and the electronic? And that’s our mission actually as a company, to help people on their digital journey. Everybody’s on their digital journey but some are over here and some are way over there.

Harvey: I think it’s one of the most fascinating things. When there’s a physical record, there’s quite an immediate and obvious cost for putting that in a box and then a warehouse. Also because of the pricing differentials in ICT I can go buy one terabyte of storage in PPC World for fifty pounds now. Whereas when I first started, one terabyte was probably most of the capacity of the UK.

So the challenge you find if you actually scan the file stores in organisations, is that only about 20% of what an organisation holds is actually worth having.

Typically 20% is actually worth keeping, 40% hasn’t been looked at in 3-5 years and it’s not a long term record it’s just something that someone’s created and no-one’s bothered to delete. Then about 40% has got at least two other copies of the same document somewhere in the architecture. I’m trying to move as much of our transactional activity away from Word, email etc. and just keep it in the data architecture itself. As proper relational data, semi structured data because then I can do GDPR very easily. So I think there is an opportunity here, we’ve had this growth and I challenge anyone out there to go and have a look on your network. Go and have a look at your file store and see exactly how much you’re paying for storage that you shouldn’t be. Also how poorly some of your key records are maybe being stored and not actually being managed properly. Cause that’s the issue. GDPR is not about someone, my concerns with GDPR are not someone cracking our safe guarding system cause we’ve built that securely. What I’m worried about is the bit of that data that at some point was copied into a word document and is now just flying around in a file store or email.

David: …and has been emailed out or has been printed and put into a case. Its about keeping control of that which is crucial as we move forwards across the businesses.

Harvey: You need good quality accurate and timely data. I think the challenges were if you sit anyone down especially in the AI space. If you sit with someone who’s built a very large and powerful neural network and ask them to explain to you exactly what its doing and how it’s doing it they haven’t got a clue. Because the system automatically adjusts its weightings, it sorts itself out. So that neural network is not designed by a person. The network is put in place by a person and the machine learning then changes, its own brain if you want to put it that way, if your data is not of decent quality underneath it not only do they not know exactly how the neural network is behaving but you can’t even trust the results that are coming out of it!

David: The outputs would just be rubbish

Harvey: Precisely. So to put it into perspective locally my data architecture team didn’t exist. When I first got there, there was one person, within six months there was two people and there is now ten. Because for the next few years with our digital transformation our focus is about the capture, the management and the use of the data that drives the business. Years back there was a study published that fed spiders drugs and they saw the webs that they made depending on these different drugs. Our data flow looked like the one where the spider was on crack cocaine! It literally went over, there were hundreds of trails, bits of this piece of data cut from this spreadsheet to that spreadsheet. Data sent to these people and then added to a bit of data they got, then sent it back and you think one, the effort that was going into that and two, the risks around data quality compromise, rekeying errors all this sort of stuff.

The end of paper storage?

Kevin: Dave, digital transformation is it a transform or die? In your view there is still a place for paper storage?

David: There is still a place for paper storage but I don’t think there is anybody that isn’t touched by technology today. And I think I look back and I go back to actually the launch of the iPhone as a symbol of how far things have changed. Because today we work 24/7 we are the nonstop society. So at 3 o’clock in the morning if somebody wants to access information they expect to power up their iPhone, their Android or their laptop and get access to it. And even if you’re not working in a big city law firm or financial institution you’ll still be affected by this. You could be working in the creative arts but you still need a Facebook profile, you still need access to electronic things. So I think if you want to call it digital transformation or you can call it more descriptively as, using current technology to get your message out and to understand where you are. It touches everybody, without question.

Harvey: I agree

Institutions and enterprise change

Kevin: Harvey, if you were advising another public service institutional or any institution on enterprise change, what would your secret sauce be?

Harvey: I don’t think there is one! I think that challenge is, regardless of what the market will tell you, most organisations are starting form very different places. They may have similar challenges but their own unique challenges will be unique to them. For fire and rescue we’ve talked earlier about the disjointed IT data flows etc. but also austerity and the need to drive money down. So I think if I was going to give you advice, the first thing is if you’re going to drive transformation using technology my advice would be to look at your current technology set up. Both in what you use in terms of the services etc. but also how your IT is provided and supported. One of the biggest challenges I find particularly in the public sector is that obviously for many years it’s been quite disheartening at times that ICT is seen as a cost centre with some flashing lights.

I still work on the principle if I go into an organisation and ICT reports into the finance director you’re not ready for transformative change.

Sorry that’s just the nature of the beast. Its seen as a cost centre with some flashing lights. So you need to look at that. If ICT is going to be the agent of change then they need to be the people who can change. And one of the challenges we’ve had in a lot of organisations public and private is because of the perception of ICT. It’s been something that’s outsource this, outsource that, so their internal IT functions are effectively you know the reddit or badge wearers as they say in my trade. They are very good at managing the services, very good at managing the budgets. Also they’re very good at providing lovely reports to their senior stakeholders on how wonderful the services have been delivered. Availability and uptime and we managed to shave five points out the cost base this year etc. etc. Asking people who effectively by default need to be risk adverse to then become your transformative agents of change, I think well be a step too far at times. So I think there is a challenge there, so certainly one of the first things I did was completely restructure our IT department. I think your senior IT leaders, the perception that digital transformation should be led from the IT department is a bit of misnomer. I think it’ll be delivered by the IT department but it won’t be delivered by the IT department if they they haven’t got the other stakeholders on board.

David: Businesses need to be on board, the business needs to recognise that there is a need for change and there’s something that needs to be done. And a lot of it be driven around efficiencies within the organisation. You already mentioned within your own organisation limited budgets, funding restrictions and those sorts of things. It is transformative by its very nature and its transformative in the way that it makes the organisation more efficient. So to have somebody come back from an incident and have to fill in fifteen different reports on fifteen different systems is absolutely ridiculous. But somebody somewhere at senior level needs to recognise that and drive it.

Harvey: A lot of the projects I see are digital but they’re not transformative. If you’re going into your digital transformation strategies with ‘well we’re going to go in and lean some of our processes out’ that is not transformative, that’s just shaving some points out if you can. The challenge comes if you’re doing something truly transformative. Whether that’s being more effective efficient or whether that’s because you’ve got an new entrant on the market place. I think the challenges there are very difficult, to put together the kind of granular level of detail business case that an MD wants to see for a digital transformative piece of work. There are bits where you have to prove it with small discreet efforts first and then looks and say you trusted me on that, we delivered on that, we’ve delivered on this. When we say actually if we do these bits and these bits there’s no cashable benefits to start with but they’ve then filled in that jigsaw piece and the good stuff comes on top. You’ll only be able to bring the FD on board and others with you if you’ve proved that point. If I walked into the Fire and Rescue Service with a digital transformation plan on day one that was going to sort all this stuff out and we started talking about hyper conversion architectures cloud etc. they’d have shown me the door. And quite rightly so!

There is an element of going in there finding some specific pain points fixing them to then prove the point. Digital transformation is a macro piece of work but you deliver it in micro chunks.

David: The reality behind all that is it’s about understanding your audience. Your FD is not going to understand the language of the acronym, he’s going to understand what’s the return on that investment. However your CEO or your MD they have a different view. Everybody’s got their own skin in the game. They’ve all got their own way of looking at the world. Its about making sure that you’ve got the right message to the right people, to deliver the appropriate endgame and drive that transformation.

Harvey: Absolutely.

The opportunity of digital transformation

Kevin: Fantastic, just finally then, digital transformation is that an almightily costs or an unprecedented opportunity?

David: I don’t think it needs to be an almighty cost and as you’ve just said start small and develop. If you put those pilot programmes in place then you’ll see the benefits of that. So I think it’s a great opportunity to do something really different and be transformational. So inevitably there are costs associated with it but if you do it right, the cost will be outweighed by the benefits. Then those costs will reduce overtime.

Harvey: I don’t think it is something an organisation can ignore. I go back to Egg which was the first one that really shook the financial services. I used to work on global banking platforms and we’d been banging the door of all the big banks in this country and around the world asking, ‘when are you going to move with the times?’. ‘Well there’s no point’ they’d say. ‘Why would we bother?’. Then in a moment it switched, we went from harassing our customers to our customer harassing us when Egg appeared. All of a sudden they’re coming out and their card is two percent cheaper on the interest rate. Of course the banks couldn’t match it because Egg rented their data centre. They rented some space in a call centre, they had a small back office and jobs a good in! Their cost price was shrunk and I think that was probably the first sign of what was about to happen to a lot of sectors. If you’re not moving digital now, stripping out inefficiencies and stripping out your costs, someone else will. They’re going to start up with lower costs and the opportunity to start with the green field site and not have all these issues to deal with in the first place. So I think it’s a matter of survival and I know that sounds grandiose.

If you’re not seriously considering where your business needs to be in a few years’ time and how you can leverage digital transformation to get there, then someone else will.

Kevin: Harvey Durrant, Dave Fathers. Thank you very much

Want to listen to more? In episode four Nathan Voogt, Commercial Account Director, Preservica shares his experiences on the importance of digital archiving and future proofing your data.

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